To determine the spectrum of tubulin variants in cytoskeletons of Trypanosoma brucei carboxy-terminal fragments of alpha- and beta-tubulin were isolated and characterized by sequencing and mass spectrometry. All variants arise by posttranslational modifications. We confirm the presence of tyrosinated and detyrosinated alpha-tubulin. Unexpectedly, but in line with its sequence, beta-tubulin also occurs with and without its carboxy-terminal tyrosine. Both tyrosinated and detyrosinated alpha- and beta-tubulins are extensively glutamylated. Unglutamylated tubulins are only trace components of the cytoskeletal microtubules. The maximal numbers of glutamyl residues in the lateral chain are 15 and 6 for alpha- and beta-tubulin, respectively. The oligoglutamyl side chain is linked via an isopeptide bond to glutamic acid residues 445 of alpha- and 435 of beta-tubulin. The same sites are used in glutamylated tubulins of mammalian brain. No tubulin variants based on polyglycylation are detected in cytoskeletal preparations or in isolated flagella. Tubulin specific incorporation of radioactive glutamate but not of glycine is observed when protein biosynthesis is completely inhibited in Trypanosoma cells. Possible reasons for the absence of polyglycylated tubulins from the trypanosomal axoneme are discussed. Finally we show that lysine 40 of the flagellar alpha-tubulin is completely acetylated.

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